September 16, 2023

There are graceful, majestic sports played almost every week at the Capital One Arena; and then there is Monster Jam. Oof!

Photo of an overturned monster truck.

On the benefits of microblogging

The five or so regulars readers of this blog may have noticed a pattern of promises made and not kept of things I will, may, or should discuss at some future, unspecified point. These were usually somewhere in the margin notes, but sometimes I would end with a cliffhanger. The topics included mental models, notable microblogs, and ABIM’s financial shenenigans; in my head, the list was significantly longer, and the items expanded into 1,000+ word posts that would be a slog to reference, a nightmare to edit, and which no one would ultimately read.

Up until last year, whatever I thought about those topics would stay in my head, waiting for the stars to align and for the Gods of chaos and time Also known as my children. to smile upon their humble servant. Which is a net good for the reading public — who needs to read the unbaked thoughts of an oncologist? — but as Cory Doctorow wrote, having one’s thoughts written down is good practice both for developing them and for future reference. I was, in a way, depriving my future self of the benefit of knowing how big of a fool my past self was.

But ever since learning of the combination This is Miraz Jordan’s brief YouTube introduction to the two; 15 minutes of time well spent if you have even a tiny bit of interest., I’ve maintained a daily log of thoughts, readings, viewings, and writings. The low friction of the tools begs for scattered non-sequiturs and word salads — think of an unkempt Obsidian database — but the semi-social veneer that provides tempers my worst instincts and makes the posts better overall for everyone exposed, including my future self. Sure, those longer texts still don’t get written — although, just watch this one grow! — but for personal use the snippets are even more valuable (and easier to skim).

Not everyone should be a capital-b Blogger — or have a gated newsletter for that matter — but many more people could benefit from a small-p personal blog of the commonplace type. The reason I bristle at overproduced “content” and at statements that anyone who writes must give it their all, strive to perfect everything they write above the 80%-done good-enough-for-government-work standard that is close to my heart, is that they create the wrong impression of what blogging could/should/would be if it hadn’t been for the Huffington Posts and the Gawkers of the peak-blog internet that equated blogging with monetization. And also why I took an initial dislike of The Curator’s Code despite its obvious usefulness. Why should personal blogging be standardized? It’s Personal!

And if you want to find some of these to read, for instruction, inspiration, or just plain enjoyment? Outside of the great blogs — check out the Discover page for a daily sampling — there is Dave Winer’s, John Naughton’s Memex, Ian Betteridge’s Technovia, Reader John’s Tipsy Teetotaler, Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True, and oh so many more.

September 15, 2023

Being stuck at an airport doesn’t have to be bad. Nashville, for example, has more than one airport restaurant with live music at all hours of the day (and night). Last year we spent a few hours waiting for a delayed flight at Ole Red.

Photo of a small restaurant stage, with a man playing acoustic guitar and singing, surrounded by diners.

Continuing the daily cadence of one photo followed by a complaint about America’s most hated board of medicine, ABIM has once again shown its complete deafness of tone. While almost 10% of its customers — for we are not members of this private club — rebelling against its practices, it still sent out an automated extortion reminder threatening to remove certification if you don’t pay up. Well, I don’t think I shall.

As a prolific child fabulist, I very much appreciated @ayjay’s reminiscence. Most people are, in fact, reflexive embellishers, but not everyone can recognize it in themselves or turn it into a healthy skepticism. At least that’s what I tell myself!

There can be only one (priority)

I am reasonably quick at making decisions, and people occasionally ask me for input when they need to make theirs. This is either when they have already decided — and there are good and not so good ways of soliciting feedback then, but that is for a different time — or when they haven’t a clue about what to do. This latter situation is usually because:

My favorite part of the process, and the part I consider the most difficult, is defining the problem, figuring out the options, and mapping out — to the extent possible — the Markov chain for each; i.e. the first two items on the list. But once you do that, shouldn’t the choice be clear? Well, for some (many?) apparently not!

Wild problems aside, This is admittedly a very big aside, but most issues people ask me about are not, in fact, wild, just ill-defined. once you know the choices and their consequences, shouldn’t it be easy to pick the one that fits best with your priorities?

Well, not unless you rank them! Which is so banal I’m a bit embarrassed to waste even two minutes of your time for it, but seriously, for every 10 people I ask about their top priority (singular), nine will start giving me an unordered list of them, and start hemming and hawing about my follow-up, which is to pick just one. Because there can be only one: it’s right there in the name! And if only one choice fits, well, there you have it! If there are several, you go down your ordered list one by one and prune.

Of course, it is not always that easy. But the decisions people get paralyzed about are seldom in the Sophie’s Choice category; and for those that are, there are usually many more degrees of freedom to reframe the problem, the choices, or both, than poor Sophie had. For everything else, the choice is difficult because people haven’t figured out the priority, i.e. what they actually want.

NB: the list of priorities can be all-encompassing (“values”, but remember, at the end of the day it’s really just one “value”) or context-specific (“first, do no (net) harm” for doctors, etc.) I am sure there are whole industries ready to sell you their lists of priorities, or, um, empower you to make your own. I am by nature skeptical of anyone who too readily shares theirs. Caveat lector, as they say.

September 14, 2023

The Statue of Liberty is made of copper, which long ago oxidized into a green patina: the perfect protection against the harsh salty airs of the Hudson/Upper New York Bay. So of course there is a campaign to remove that protection and make it shiny again.

Photo of the Statue of Liberty

The campaign to end mandatory maintenance of certification is, as of yesterday, at 20,000 signatures. This is just shy of 10% of the people affected; what are the other 90+ percent thinking? Still, it was enough to make the professional societies pay attention.

September 13, 2023

From the National Aquarium in Baltimore, a non-fluorescent jellyfish. Its glow comes from background lighting conspiring with iPhone 15’s propensity to illuminate.

The Pacific sea nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens), if Google's image search is to be believed

Photo of a glowing jellyfish inside a dark blue aquarium.

September 12, 2023

Phrase of the day: digital dandruff. Thank you, Charlie Warzel.